Former long-shot presidential candidate and congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard of Hawaii is just the latest U.S. politician to seize on debunked, Kremlin-backed conspiracy theories about the supposed existence of U.S.-run bioweapon research labs in Ukraine.
But she’s the first high-profile Democrat to do so.
What started as an InfoWars talking point has been embraced by the Russian and Chinese state media and has morphed in recent days into a full blown right-wing effort to place the blame for President Putin’s deadly war on Ukraine squarely on the shoulders of the U.S. right’s usual cast of enemies, including President Biden and, of course, Anthony Fauci. Kate Riga digs into the madness here.
The capsule version of the story so far is this: The right-wing fever swamps in the U.S. have seized on the existence of run-of-the-mill research facilities in Ukraine as the real reason for Putin’s invasion, claiming the U.S. — and Fauci himself! — has been backing the work being done in these laboratories in order to create some sort of new infectious disease bioweapon. (The whole thing rhymes with the fixation on the Wuhan lab’s role in the COVID-19 pandemic.) There is no evidence that the U.S. is funding any bioweapon research in Ukraine’s labs, but the Kremlin has eagerly trumpeted it as a post hoc rationalization for it’s war. U.S. officials have also been warning that this rhetoric is being pushed by the Kremlin as a pretext for potential future biological and chemical attacks on Ukrainians.
In a video posted to Twitter Sunday, Gabbard claimed there are more than two dozen of these bioweapon labs in Ukraine that, if attacked by the Russians, could release “deadly pathogens” in the country that will spread across the globe. It appears she might have been referencing a statement from the World Health Organization this week calling on Ukraine to destroy any “pathogens” in the labs — i.e. any research being conducted in the facilities to help mitigate public health threats, like the spread of COVID-19 — that could pose a threat if the research facilities were bombed by the Russians.
That said, her presentation played right into the hands of the conservative media’s “just asking questions” set.
A bunch people have pushed back on her conspiracy theory, including Republicans like Rep. Adam Kinzinger (R-IL) and Sen. Mitt Romney (R-UT), who tweeted on Sunday that Gabbard was “parroting false Russian propaganda” and accused the former congresswoman of spreading “treasonous lies” that “may well cost lives” in Ukraine.
Gabbard has since shot back in a Twitter thread, largely sidestepping the question of a possible chemical attack by Russia in Ukraine and calling on Romney to “apologize and resign” from the Senate.
While she is just the latest to throw kindling on the birdbrained conspiracy theories, there’s always been an odd synergy between Russia’s propaganda machine and Gabbard. Back in 2019, during her bid for the Democratic presidential nomination, the talking points of Gabbard’s lackluster campaign were repeatedly mentioned in Russian state news TV reports and were regularly boosted by online social media trolls with ties to the Kremlin. Noting that at the time, the New York Times’ asked “What, Exactly, Is Tulsi Gabbard Up To?”
We still don’t really know.
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